A gang of bad outlaws, a good lawman, his rugged companion, and an innocent girl are all headed inexorably toward bloody violence, because as Shakespeare taught us all long ago – and the writers of Westerns were no doubt paying particularly close attention – blood will have blood. So far, it probably sounds like Eminence Hill doesn’t offer much that’s new, but its stroke of brilliance is throwing these stock characters into a freaky religious community, the kind that seem to be all the rage since Midsommar. I wonder why The Wicker Man failed to have the same effect a decade ago.
That genre mash-up twist isn’t the only surprise waiting in Eminence Hill’s script, but I’ll do my best not to spoil any of the others. It’s a very enjoyable picture to watch, with an interesting setting well-realised, and some solid casting investing its characters with a dignity and humanity that comes far more from the performances than the script. There are a couple of familiar Western faces – Barry Corbin is the evil old-timer running the religious community of Eminence Hill, and an altogether too-high-billed Lance Henriksen shows up for one memorable, if extraneous, scene – but the actor who does the best here is Owen Conway as Quincy, the straight-and-narrow lawman whose fearless, humble decency provides the film with its human centre. You might assume that Owen Conway got the gig through nepotism, since he co-wrote the film with his brother, director Robert Conway, but if that’s the case then I say, we need more nepotism in cinema.
In another lifetime, I was quite pleasantly surprised by Conway’s zero-budget found-footage alien-invasion pic, The Encounter. He’s since turned out a number of Westerns and actioners, among other things – though the less said about his Krampus trilogy, the better. On the evidence here, he’s moving up in the world, Eminence Hill looking, if not quite like an A-feature, at least Hollywood in its locations, cinematography, and modest star power. About the only giveaway of its indie nature is the occasional less-than-convincing splash of CG blood. It may not be something that’ll change your life, but you could do much worse than to spend a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon with this lively bit of genre entertainment.
Eminence Hill is out now in theatres and releases on VOD and DVD on November 5th.